Known nationwide for its iconic Bush’s Baked Beans and “secret family recipe,” it’s no secret that Bush Brothers and Co. is a true Tennessee agriculture success.
Tucked away in the small community of Chestnut Hill in East Tennessee, the company’s roots trace back to 1896 when founder A.J. Bush established a general store, and later opened a tomato cannery in 1904. Not too long after, Bush expanded his operations – a decision he made after starting a family and desiring to provide jobs for his children and others in the community. The company has since expanded into one of the largest employers in the area today, with canning plants in Chestnut Hill and Augusta, Wis. Thousands of tourists are drawn each year to Bush’s Visitor Center, where they learn about the variety of beans and canned goods marketed across the U.S. and internationally.
“As a fourth-generation Bush family member, we are fortunate to remain rooted in East Tennessee,” says Drew Everett, A.J. Bush’s great grandson and chairman of the Board for Bush Brothers and Co. “My great grandfather realized his dream of involving his community and his six children in the family business. I don’t know that anyone could have imagined when he opened the general store that it would one day host thousands of visitors to Chestnut Hill, or that the company he founded now ships its products throughout the U.S. and Canada over 100 years later.”
Ed Harlan, assistant commissioner for Market Development with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA), says Bush Brothers and Co. exemplifies what it means to be a Tennessee agriculture and economic success story.
“The Bush success story really speaks for itself,” he says. “And we have industries and businesses like that all over the state.”
Staying true to its Tennessee roots, the company’s hub remains in Chestnut Hill. Each year, thousands go to the Smoky Mountains and stop at Bush’s Visitor Center, which opened in 2010. According to Max Fultz, longtime employee and visitor center manager, it opened thanks to A.J. Bush’s grandson Jim Ethier. The inspiration to open a center came after visitors would ask time and time again whether the company offered tours.
“As a 26-year employee of Bush Brothers and Co., it’s been gratifying to see how much the company has changed and grown over the years while maintaining a family atmosphere,” Fultz says. “Having the opportunity to see the Bush’s Visitor Center being built and come to life has certainly been one of the many highlights of my career here.”
Also on site is a remodeled version of the original A.J. Bush and Co. General Store, where customers purchase Bush’s Beans, along with gifts, candy and more. Additionally, visitors can rest and treat themselves at Bush’s Family Café, dining on hardy Southern comfort food, including Bush’s Beans and unique desserts.
A distinctive feature, Bush Brothers and Co. also hosts a beef cattle farm on 2,000 acres in Chestnut Hill and 1,000 acres in Newport, using beans to feed cattle and waste water used to wash beans at the plant to irrigate fescue fields.
A True Success
Harlan says Bush Brothers and Co. is a model of inspiration for agribusiness in the state. Other notable companies that produce in Tennessee and provide jobs include Tyson Foods, Pictsweet, Little Debbie owned by McKee Foods, and many more.
“Over the last several years, the TDA has had a real focus on agribusiness development, such as Bush Brothers and Co.,” Harlan says. “They have been a longtime provider of not only jobs, but also for the food-processing part of the economy in East Tennessee.”
He adds, “What we’re trying to do with agribusiness development is provide more opportunity for Tennessee farmers and growers, and also to provide jobs in rural Tennessee for farm families.”
A big focus for his department is on food-processing operations.
“The state sees opportunity there because of our transportation network, strong incentive programs, and growth and potential for growth of population,” Harlan says.